Recommended Reads: Casino Royale

This recommendation of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale was posted by Anna Maddison. Anna is currently researching a PhD on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and lectures on both nineteenth century literature and Victorian painting. She also writes poetry and short stories inspired by her Victorian studies.

Ian Fleming: Casino Royale

After seeing Daniel Craig emerge Andress-like from the sea in the latest Bond film Casino Royale, I felt inspired to discover, as the filmmakers had, the first of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. Luckily Casino Royale (1953) came up as last month’s choice at my book club and the opportunity to explore new reading territory presented itself. Previously uninitiated into the world of Bond literature, I took the plunge and found I enjoyed it.

The novel is well worth a read, not least to revel, as the book jacket designer has (check out the retro cover of the recent Penguin edition above), in its glory as a period piece. The product placement in the novel is overt to which Bond’s Ronson lighter (p.91) and Vesper’s Dior dresses (p.68) testify. However, the superficiality is undercut by the tension of the gambling scenes and the stark violence that peppers the book: rather surprisingly the torture scene is as graphic as that portrayed in the recent film.

Fleming’s skill as a travel writer shows itself in the atmospheric sense of place. Indeed it seems at times part thriller, part travelogue. There is a strange mix of the colourful and the spare in the prose, which is both sensual in its descriptions of food, drink and decor, and economic in its cold, business like tone. The warm and the cool therefore jostle for position within the novel as they do within Bond’s character:

Then he slept, and with the warmth and humour of his eyes extinguished, his features relapsed into a taciturn mask, ironical, brutal and cold. (p.8)

The misogynistic aspects are unpalatable to the modern reader but dare I say amusing also for the same reason that makes the book enjoyable: its occasional period kitschness:

Bond was not amused. ‘What the hell do they want to send me a woman for?’ he said bitterly. ‘Do they think this is a bloody picnic?’ (pp.30-31)

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By Anna Maddison

All page numbers refer to the recent edition published by Penguin Books in 2006. Penguin has recently reissued all 14 Bond novels with striking retro covers.

Read our previous Recommended Reads here.

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